Mazda’s big­gest ma­chine in­tro­duces a new tur­bocharged en­gine bring­ing what SUV buy­ers want most, low end torque. Rob Maet­zig drives the new sev­enseater CX-9 in L.A.

NZ Autocar - - Front Page - Pho­tos Mazda

Julien Mon­touse, the di­rec­tor of de­sign for Mazda’s North Amer­i­can oper­a­tions, put it suc­cinctly dur­ing the world re­veal of the Ja­panese brand’s new CX-9. Mazda is not a per­for­mance-cen­tric com­pany, he said - but a fam­ily-cen­tric com­pany.

Those few words per­fectly un­der­lined what this new SUV is all about. It moves its at­ten­tion away from any need for top-end per­for­mance, con­cen­trat­ing in­stead on do­ing the best it can at the lower end of the en­gine rev band where own­ers of such ve­hi­cles op­er­ate al­most all of the time.

In fact, jour­nal­ists were told dur­ing a brief­ing in Los An­ge­les that most mo­torists hardly ever get above 3000rpm, and never push their en­gines over 4000rpm.

“So we have re­sponded to this re­search in our de­vel­op­ment of the new CX-9,” said Mon­touse. “We’re not nec­es­sar­ily los­ing sporti­ness - but we are want­ing to con­nect with what hap­pens in the real mo­tor­ing world.”

Very im­por­tant point that, and some­thing that was promptly proven as jour­nal­ists headed out on a drive pro­gramme through Los An­ge­les in heav­ily cam­ou­flaged pre-pro­duc­tion CX-9s. The new SUV was sched­uled to be pub­licly un­veiled at the Los An­ge­les Auto Show two days later, but the writ­ers got time be­hind the wheel any­way, tour­ing through many of LA’s well known thor­ough­fares.

If truth be known, ‘tour’ prob­a­bly wasn’t the best de­scrip­tion of the drive. It was more stop-start through the Mel­rose Aves and Rodeo Drives of down­town LA, with a short run along one of the free­ways and a bit of a burst along the well known racer road, Mulholland Drive. All in a hand-built pro­to­type that Mazda really, really wanted back. So the event was hardly a hard-out road test.

But the oc­ca­sion did suc­ceed in il­lus­trat­ing what Mazda has done with the new CX-9. The com­pany has taken the

SkyActiv 2.5-litre four-cylin­der en­gine many New Zealan­ders know so well from the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-5, and tur­bocharged it. As a re­sult, in­stead of the en­gine offering the nor­mally as­pi­rated version’s 138kW and 250 New­tons of torque, the turbo of­fers 186kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm.

Im­por­tantly, all this torque is avail­able from base­ment revs, which the Mazda re­search shows is where most peo­ple drive their ve­hi­cles. The cur­rent CX-9, which is pow­ered by a Ford-sourced 3.7-litre V6, de­vel­ops 204kW, and its 367Nm of torque tops out at 4250 rpm.

A fea­ture of the new en­gine is what Mazda calls Dy­namic Pres­sure Turbo, which is the world’s first tur­bocharger with the abil­ity to vary the de­gree of ex­haust pulse de­pend­ing on en­gine speed. The DPT routes en­gine ex­haust to the tur­bocharger’s tur­bine through small ports at low rev­o­lu­tions - Mazda de­scribes the process as be­ing akin to plac­ing a thumb over a gar­den hose to cre­ate a stronger amount of pres­sure through a smaller out­let - and this al­lows the turbo to spool up ex­tremely quickly for al­most in­stant boost. Then when the en­gine is in the heart of its rev range it opens up sec­ondary valves, al­low­ing greater amounts of ex­haust gas to pass through the tur­bocharger.

Fur­ther help­ing the CX-9 to max­imise tur­bocharger ef­fi­ciency is a 4-3-1 ex­haust. With this set-up, the ex­haust from the mid­dle two cylin­ders is joined into a sin­gle port, while the ex­hausts from the outer cylin­ders have their own ports. Th­ese three ports merge at the en­trance to the tur­bocharger’s ex­haust side, where there is al­ways one ex­haust pulse ar­riv­ing ev­ery 180 de­grees of crankshaft ro­ta­tion. Not only does this very compact man­i­fold keep the ex­haust pulses sep­a­rate for max­i­mum en­ergy ex­trac­tion, but it also har­nesses each ex­haust pulse to suck resid­ual ex­haust from the adjacent ports.

But wait, there’s more. In an ef­fort to in­crease fuel ef­fi­ciency, the 2.5T has a cooled ex­haust gas re­cir­cu­la­tion (EGR) sys­tem which helps over­come what Mazda en­gi­neers de­scribe as the dirty lit­tle se­cret of tur­bocharged en­gines - they con­trol heat by

adding raw fuel to the com­bus­tion cham­ber, and that’s why such en­gines are no­to­ri­ous for their high fuel use when driven hard.

But the cooled EGR helps bring en­gine tem­per­a­tures down from ap­prox­i­mately 500C to just over 100C, al­low­ing the 2.5T to op­er­ate with a com­pres­sion ra­tio of 10.5:1, which is one of the high­est of any petrol-pow­ered tur­bocharged en­gine.

The net re­sult of all of this is the high torque at low rev­o­lu­tions, and im­proved fuel econ­omy. No of­fi­cial fig­ures are yet avail­able for the new CX-9, but Mazda es­ti­mates at least a 20 per cent im­prove­ment on the 11L/100km claimed for the cur­rent model. Help­ing things along is the fact the new model is up to 100 kg lighter than the CX-9 it re­places.

The cur­rent CX-9 is the last Mazda pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle sold in New Zealand to share com­po­nen­try with Ford. Thanks to that brand’s pre­vi­ous 33 per cent own­er­ship of Mazda, the out­go­ing CX-9 is built on the same CD3 plat­form as some Ford SUV prod­uct, and it has the Ford pow­er­train. But the new model is all Mazda, and as such it will of­fer all the SkyActiv plat­form, pow­er­train and safety tech­nolo­gies that have al­ready proved suc­cess­ful in ev­ery other mem­ber of Mazda’s pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle range.

The new CX-9 has ex­te­rior lines that fol­low Mazda’s Kodo de­sign phi­los­o­phy, as seen in the smaller CX-3 and CX-5 SUVs, and there is a strong vis­ual sim­i­lar­ity be­tween all three of the ve­hi­cles. It is a good-look­ing SUV with a dis­tinc­tively de­signed nose.

The body is 30mm shorter than the cur­rent model, but its wheel­base has been ex­tended by 55mm so there is bet­ter room in­side. Front and rear over­hangs are also shorter than be­fore, and the A-pil­lar has been moved back 100mm in an ef­fort to give the SUV a stronger look via a longer bon­net area. Julien Mon­touse de­scribed the CX-9 as offering a “planted” look via a sleek up­per body and stable lower area.

Mazda claims that the CX-9’s lighter weight com­bines with SkyActiv chas­sis tech­nol­ogy to give the ve­hi­cle a much im­proved drive. Dur­ing our sor­tie out into the streets of LA it was hard to judge any of the driv­ing dy­nam­ics, but one thing that did be­come im­me­di­ately clear was its level of re­fine­ment.

Around 20kg more sound in­su­la­tion has been added to the ve­hi­cle when com­pared to the cur­rent CX-9, in­clud­ing 500 per cent more sound dead­en­ing ma­te­rial un­der the car­pets, use of thicker sheet metal for the floor pan­els, and sound-block­ing plas­tics all round. As a re­sult of all this, at 100km/h, in­te­rior noise lev­els are said to be re­duced by 12 per cent.

When the new CX-9 ar­rives in New Zealand dur­ing the sec­ond half of 2016, it will be avail­able with both front- and all-wheel drive op­tions. The AWD version uses Mazda’s i-ACTIV sys­tem that was pi­o­neered on the smaller CX-5 and which uses 22 dif­fer­ent sen­sors to pre­dict road con­di­tions and direct torque to the rear wheels when nec­es­sary. The SUV will also carry a suite of i-ACTIVSENSE ac­tive safety fea­tures in­clud­ing blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, radar-based cruise con­trol, lane-keep as­sist, high-beam con­trol, and smart city brake sup­port.

Mazda New Zealand man­ag­ing di­rec­tor An­drew Clear­wa­ter says the new CX-9 will ar­rive at a per­fect time for the com­pany.

“Given that there con­tin­ues to be strong growth in SUV sales in the New Zealand mar­ket, the new CX-9 will pro­vide us with a great op­por­tu­nity to in­crease our sales,” he says. The cur­rent CX-9 sells at a rate of about 20 a month, which rep­re­sents 7 per cent of large SUV sales.

Clear­wa­ter is un­able to say at this early stage what the new CX-9’s lev­els of spec­i­fi­ca­tion or pric­ing will be. But if the re­tail prices of the ex­ist­ing CX-9 mod­els are any guide, the prices for the new model will run from mid-$50,000 to mid-$60,000.

Fa­mil­iar Mazda el­e­ments in the CX-9’s in­te­rior, which is well made. And roomy too. Though over­all length is down, in­te­rior space is up thanks to a stretch in the wheel­base di­men­sion.

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